“Barbecue” Singes Common Thread’s Nascent Stage
An interesting twist toward the end of the plot saves Robert O’Hara’s sizzling Barbecue from becoming a play difficult to savor. It’s worth remaining in your seat till the end of the second act to find out. The satirical drama produced by the newly formed professional Common Thread Theatre Collective dishes up lots of food for thought.
Traditionally, an outdoor family barbecue in the park is intended to create carefree fun and games and delicious food to eat. Not this one. Barbecue’s dysfunctional white trash O’Mallery family has other intentions for their outing.
Lillie Ann, an outspoken, determined sister, brilliantly played by Joanna Gerdy, arrives at a well-appointed trashy park designed by Chip Davis to elicit support from her brother James T., effectively portrayed by Shawn Halliday, before their other sisters arrive.
Loud and foul-mouthed, James T. has been guzzling beer from cans he later kicks around the park for fun. The O’Mallery family picnic really is a set-up to perform an intervention on their sister Barbara, a crack-head actress called Zippity Boom, performed by Ava McAllister Smith.
It’s hard to believe the O’Mallerys are qualified to support their intentions. Everyone is addicted some way or another—drugs, pills, alcohol. Satirical, loud-mouth Adlean, wittily portrayed by Lane Morris, arrives with her outrageous sister Marie, played with polished professionalism by Shawnna Pledger, who can barely remain upright, wobbling in high-heel platform shoes and squeezed into a skin-tight yellow dress.
While resolute Lillie Ann attempts to coach her siblings in the behavior they must exhibit at the intervention, their minds wander toward the depth of their own continual addictive problems.
Hold your hats! All those shenanigans ain’t nothin’! Stage blacks out—and another O’Mallery family appears. Only this time, everyone is Black, dressed just as their white counterparts and equally dysfunctional in the roles they portray.
Willa Bost shines as the leader, Lillie Ann. Tyler Madden plays James T., Xulee-Vanecia J portrays Marie, and La’Tonya R. Wiley is Adlean. Common Thread Theatre Collective intern Jade Parker plays the role of the addiction-plagued Movie Star Barbara.
The juxtaposition of the two addicted families is clever, and playwright O’Hara carefully moves the scenes without repetition as the two similar families, one Black and one white deliver a story replete with raw satire, racial innuendo, family conflict, and provocative social addiction, amid striking comedic lines.
And at Davidson College’s Barber Theatre stage, Donna Baldwin-Bradby directs a superb cast of actors to portray and juxtapose Barbecue’s distinct outlandishly irreverent characters. An unusual achievement around Lake Norman’s artistic environs. The polished performers include the combined force of Equity and Charlotte region actors, theatre students from mainly white Davidson College and historically Black public North Carolina A&T State University, along with a few Common Thread interns.
Bravo! Although obnoxious and loud in their portrayals, the actors are superb and deliver their dysfunctional roles with élan. Whereas the purpose of the first act seems elusive until its final scene, the second act, which initially drags from an overdose of heavy dialogue, reveals the exciting twist. Award Presenters Meredith Iodice and Jada Wesley along with Joseph Santi-Unger and Nathan Salley, playing the roles of Movie Crew, deliver the surprise.
Barbecue is replete with shady, intense facts, dark, perhaps, but the play addresses the reality of contemporary times. Disturbing as the intensity of an intervention might be, it is “the accumulation of the outpouring of our love,” Lillie Ann explains to her sister Barbara. The lines in many sibling speeches often run a bit too long—the intended message could be more succinct if the abundance of words was condensed. But that’s how the author wrote his play.
Common Thread Theatre Collective is a welcome addition to the Lake Norman area’s artistic community. Diversity onstage is a winner! The collaborative theatrical effort between the university and college is to give voice to
historically excluded perspectives of women, LGBTQ+ artists and artists of color. Productions will be staged in the summer, probably alternating between Davidson and Greensboro, the home of North Carolina A&T.
Barbecue is a thought-provoking theatrical treat. The show may be seen on weekends through July 31.
Connie Fisher, neé Consuelo Carmona, is a Davidson resident who grew up in Mexico City where she became a journalist and acquired a taste for the theatre. Her preference for work behind the scenes, led to an interest in writing reviews—Yale Rep among her favorite troupes. Connie is the author of Doing it the Right Way, the biography of an Italian hatmaker. Her prose appears with 87 other international writers in The Widows’ Handbook. An active member of Charlotte Writers’ Club North, currently she is writing chapters of memoir and continues to review theatre in the Lake Norman area.